Pine Island residents frustrated with lack of services and help

PINE ISLAND – Being tucked away from the traffic, bustle and noise of the neighboring mainland of Fort Myers has generally been a blessing for people who call Pine Island home.

But after Hurricane Ian upended so many lives on this northern Lee County barrier island nearly 70 days ago, residents are growing increasingly frustrated with what they say is a lack of communication. , attention and a shortage of services which they say are provided to the wealthier hurricane -battered barrier islands.

So at a community-wide civic association meeting this week, residents lined up for a chance to be heard.

They spoke of the mountains of debris still piled along the roadway. Some explained that without internet service, it was difficult to find out or ask for help. Others have asked why county building permits are taking so long.

Many shared the difficulties of trying to get state and federal help, among other necessities, in their post-Hurricane Ian world.

Lee County government leaders and officials were conspicuously absent from this large crowd. But there were a few surprise visitors.

“We have people here from government and to my surprise we actually have the director of emergency management for the entire state…and he came to our meeting tonight,” said Helen Fox, president of the Greater Pine Island Civic. The association told a group of about 200 people.

For those with cable or internet service after Ian, Kevin Guthrie is a familiar face, usually standing alongside Governor Ron DeSantis as they travel through hurricane-stricken communities in Florida announcing various initiatives to help people.

The Emergency Management Division director told the crowd that he was there for them the rest of the week and that he would be in and out of their lives over the next few years as Pine Island communities were rebuilding.

“We have to start moving towards a path to get things back and get people back to their homes with running water and washing machines and things of that nature.”

Kevin Guthrie, Director, Florida Division of Emergency Management

Kevin Guthrie, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director

Kevin Guthrie, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director

He said there will soon be a designated state contact person on Pine Island to help residents through the tedious steps when trying to get state and federal help.

“So we want to make sure you get the help you need,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie explained that there are many travel trailers available for eligible residents to use as accommodation for up to six months and he also talked about the myriad of cash available.

“Six months is better in a trailer than nothing,” he said.

Guthrie explained the growing pot of more than $55 million in donated money to be won as well as all the funding potentially available from state and federal coffers to help residents rebuild.

“We have to start moving towards a path to get things back and get people back to their homes with running water and washing machines and things of that nature,” Guthrie said.

Fox was grateful for Guthrie’s presence and concern: “So we’ve had a lot of information and I think it’s pretty incredible that these state resources are there. So thank you very much for coming to give us this information.

Also present were representatives of FEMA.

In total, there were at least seven representatives from federal and state agencies at the meeting. They then stayed to get phone numbers, offer advice and answer questions.

Absent were county officials who were invited, Fox said.

“We definitely need more interaction with the county because obviously people have questions,” Fox said.

Longtime civil servant Kevin Ruane, a county commissioner representing Pine Island and communities on other barrier islands, including Sanibel and Captiva, said he was not personally aware of having been asked to attend the meeting, but his staff was going through thousands of emails.

He said he didn’t want residents to lose hope and was happy to attend civic meetings if there was a particular topic members would like to discuss. Knowing the topic at the top of the time will allow him to bring in the appropriate personnel, he said.

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